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Our Pastors

Pastor John Roekle

Pastor John D. Roekle has been in Racine serving the congregation since 1996.  Ministry began for him in Florence, Wisconsin where he served St. John's Lutheran Church after graduating with a Master of Divinity degree from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin in 1991 until arriving in Racine.  Born and raised in Saginaw, Michigan, Pastor Roekle went to high school at Michigan Lutheran Seminary graduating in 1983.  His next four years were spent at Northwestern College (which amalgamated with Dr. Martin Luther College to form Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota), graduating in 1987.

In 1990, Pastor Roekle married Katherine (Katy) Behnke.  Together they have four sons: David (married to Hannah); Michael; Stephen; and Benjamin.  The Roekle family has enjoyed traveling, especially to cities with Major League Baseball parks.  He is an avid sports fan and still enjoys playing basketball.

Recent Sermons by Our Pastors:

Every Soul is Precious to God - Pastor John Roekle

April 29, 2018 [Easter 5] Acts 8:26-40 J.D.Roekle

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

32 The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,

and as a lamb before the shearer is silent,

so he did not open his mouth.

33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.

Who can speak of his descendants?

For his life was taken from the earth.”

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

Every Soul is Precious to God

Dear Friends in Christ,

The Germans captured more than 20,000 U.S. soldiers during the Battle of the Bulge. Of that number, 1292 of these men were non-commissioned officers who wound up in a prison camp in Ziegenhain, Germany. One day after their arrival in Ziegenhain, the commandant of the prison camp ordered all Jewish POWs in that group of 1292 to present themselves the next morning. Upon hearing that, the highest ranking officer of the American POWs, a man by the name of Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds, ordered all 1292 men to present themselves the next morning. Seeing all 1292 POWs the next morning, the commandant approached Master Sgt. Edmonds and said: “You can’t all be Jews.” At the risk of his own life, Edmonds replied: “We are all Jews.” Edmonds certainly could have just given up the 200 or so men who were Jews, but to him, every American POW was precious. In the end, they all ended up surviving.

How precious are you to God? Do we really even need to ask the question? Because who we are by nature wars against our faith, we need to be constantly reminded. Each week we gather for worship, we are reminded of how precious each of us are to God. And this is important because it only takes a bad event in our lives to get us to forget or at the very least doubt this truth. But in order for us to have the truth that every soul is precious to God cemented in our minds, let’s see how this truth plays out in this account from Acts.

Much of the time when you hear this account of Philip and the Ethiopian man, the emphasis may often be on Philip and what the Lord led him to do. Certainly that is a very valid emphasis. But today, while we may be talking about Philip too, our emphasis is really going to be on the Ethiopian man. We want to see how God clearly is telling us that every soul is precious to him.

The man from Ethiopia was clearly not a Jew by birth. He was from Africa. But somewhere along the way, he apparently began to follow Judaism. In fact, we are told that he was going back to Ethiopia after having worshipped up in Jerusalem. While we don’t know how much he knew about Jesus, he clearly didn’t know that Jesus was the Messiah, the Savior.

Because this man’s soul was precious to God, He went out of his way to make sure he learned about Jesus. He went out of his way by sending Philip. This is pretty remarkable especially when you consider what Philip had been doing.

You may remember that Philip was one of the 7 men who were appointed as deacons in Jerusalem, who were to help with the distribution of food of the Christian widows. Apparently, that responsibility had run its course because at the time the Spirit redirects Philip here, we find Philip in an unnamed city in the region of Samaria. He is working there as an evangelist. He was already working on the Gentiles. And he was having some good success. The Holy Spirit had reached the hearts of many men and women there.

Now, God redirects Philip’s attention. Why? For the sake of a single man. For the sake of one individual. One soul. One precious soul. And we see the careful attention the Lord is giving this one precious soul. It was an angel of the Lord who sent Philip in his general direction. It was the Holy Spirit who specifically commanded Philip: “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” It was God who made the writing of his prophet Isaiah available to this Ethiopian man who came from an area where the Old Testament Scriptures were likely not as obtainable. And it was God who had made sure that Philip was trained in such a way so that he could help this man understand that Isaiah was talking about Jesus. God did all this for one precious soul. Is there any doubt that every soul is precious to him!

Who is your Philip? Who was it that first taught you about the love of God in Christ? Who was it that brought you to the waters of baptism? Who was it that took the time to explain Scripture to you? Who was it that told you that the suffering servant that the prophet Isaiah is talking about was your Savior who willing suffered and died for you to win salvation and forgiveness for you?

Maybe it was a whole series of Philips that your Lord has sent to you. Whoever it is, thank God for that person or persons. Whoever it is, it should remind you of how precious you are to God. He sent his resources specifically to you. He sent a person or people specifically for your benefit, in order to bring you the love of God that we find in Christ Jesus our Savior.

That leads us to a thought that should come naturally to us by faith. Since God has found me to be so precious to him, who does God want to reach out to with the Gospel? Of course, we will immediately want to think of those who don’t know Jesus or who may have heard about Jesus but don’t understand what he’s all about. We always want to be prepared to give an answer for the hope that we have in Christ.

In respect to this, we most often point you to look for people outside the church who are not currently churched anywhere. There is a huge mission field out there. Look for those individuals. If you know someone in that situation, find a way to reach out to them with the Good News of Jesus.

But there is another segment of people I’d like you to focus on too. Focus your attention on people who have fallen away from church or are in the process of falling away. You may think to yourself: that’s the work of the elders. True. That is the work they are specifically tasked with. But you also can play a part in this. You too can assist.

When people are falling away from church, many of them are like this Ethiopian man. They may not understand any longer the significance of Jesus. And so, they need to be reminded. They need be reminded that Jesus is the suffering servant who humbled himself even to the point of death, yes, even death on a cross. They need to be reminded of how important Jesus is for them each day of their lives. When they are led to those Scriptural truths once again, it is the Holy Spirit that takes over and moves them to act on their faith. To come and worship their Savior once again.

While the elders do this work on behalf of the church, they are unable to reach everyone. There are some who won’t answer the elders’ letters or phone calls. That’s where you come in. You do know some of these individuals. You do communicate with some of them. Let the Lord remind you how important it is that you talk to them about Jesus by reminding you that each soul is precious to him. Each soul is so precious that God would sacrifice his own Son to die for each soul.

Many of those who have been falling away from church are much like evangelism prospects. What they need is to be connected or reconnected to the vine. They need to reconnect with Jesus. He is the one who gives life. He is the one who makes our lives flourish by producing fruit in connection with our faith.

Every soul is precious to God. May the Ethiopian man be a reminder to you of that truth. May you be reminded of how God has singled you out by sending individuals to you to care for your soul. With that truth in mind, may you be moved to care for other precious souls. Amen.

Jesus Is the Life - Pastor John Roekle

April 15, 2018 [Easter 3] 1 John 1:1-4 J.D.Roekle

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete.

Jesus Is the Life

Dear Friends in Christ,

In the first lesson for today, we find Peter and John on trial before the Jewish authorities. They had been jailed for teaching about Jesus, especially about the resurrection of the dead. They were asked by what authority they were teaching this. ‘What gives you the right to teach this?’ was the question at hand. Peter answered that question by saying that it was by the name of Jesus they were teaching these things. And then he boldly testified: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

Of course, Peter was only echoing the words of Jesus himself who said: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Jesus is the way, the truth, the life. How is it that we sinners can have a relationship with our perfect God? Jesus is the way. The only way. Can we trust Jesus? Is he reliable? Jesus is the truth. Whatever he proclaims is truth. Absolute truth. So what does that mean for us? That’s what is found in the third name Jesus gives himself: the life. Jesus is the life.

The verses before us make reference to Jesus being the life. John says: “The life appeared.” John refers to Jesus as the life for a very good reason. There were false teachers he was combating who denied that Christ was truly human. They said that Christ actually joined the human being Jesus at the time of his baptism. And this heavenly Christ left Jesus’ body sometime before Jesus died.

Part of John’s purpose in writing this letter is to refute this error. He wanted to reinforce the truth to his readers; the truth that Jesus Christ was true God and true man throughout his stay on earth, and that Jesus’ human and divine natures are inseparable. They are both a part of who Jesus Christ is. The Athanasian Creed which we generally speak on Trinity Sunday spells this truth out: “It is furthermore necessary for eternal salvation truly to believe that our Lord Jesus Christ also took human flesh. Now this is the true Christian faith: We believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Son, is both God and man.

As both true God and true man, Jesus Christ is the life that is revealed to us. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.”

Jesus is, in fact, the Word of life. In the first chapter of John’s Gospel, John makes it clear that Jesus is the Word. There, John paints a beautiful picture of Jesus who was sent by God to reveal who God is, because he is God. Jesus is the Word made flesh; the Word in person.

Even more, Jesus is the Word of life. This life is from before the beginning of time. This life has existed from eternity. Even before creation, this life was with the Father in heaven. And this life will continue to exist forever.

This life was revealed to human eyes when he took on flesh in that Bethlehem stable. It was here that he took on human life unlike any other, because he lived a perfect life. This life was finally persecuted: he suffered and finally his life even ended. But this life could not be extinguished. This life came back to life on the 3rd day.

He did all this in order to redeem life, yours and mine from the terrors of sin and hell. In his death and resurrection, this life guaranteed life for us. Eternal life. Life after death. Life in heaven with Jesus Christ who is the life. Life that is ours even now!

Sound too good to be true? John can back up his words about this life he speaks of. After all, John has personal evidence. John saw Jesus Christ the life with his very own eyes. He talked with him face to face. He witnessed his miracles. He received his body and blood from Christ himself as Holy Communion was celebrated for the first time. He witnessed his cruel crucifixion. He heard his direction from the cross to take care of Jesus’ mother, Mary. On Easter morning John entered Jesus’ tomb and saw the strips of cloth lying in the otherwise empty grave. John saw this life appear to the twelve on 2 different occasions behind locked doors. John’s eyes, ears, mouth, and hands told him that this life was for real.

We all long for relationships. With a spouse. With children. Parents. Brothers or sisters. Friends. Neighbors. It is great to have others that we can see; touch; talk to; laugh and cry with.

As great as those relationships are, how much greater is it to have a relationship with the life. He provides us with the life that we need. He is the one that one day we will see face to face.

Thanks to Jesus, each one of us can say “I have a life!” It is now our privilege to proclaim the good news about this life!

In 3 out 4 verses, John uses the word proclaim. In verse 3 he says: “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.”

John and his fellow apostles were eyewitnesses of Jesus. With this they had a special privilege and responsibility to not keep what they saw to themselves. They were to tell others about the marvelous words and works of Jesus.

Why tell others about Jesus, the life? So that their listeners could have fellowship with them. The word for fellowship here has the idea of being “partners”. When you are a partner with someone, you have something in common… you go to school together; you work together; you own a plot of land together; you have a common interest or common activity.

The kind of partners John is speaking of is partners in the gospel. John wanted to spread the news about Jesus, so that he would have Jesus in common with those to whom he spread it.

Why is this partnership so important to John and all believers? John says: “We write this to make our joy complete.” What could make John and the other apostles happier than to know that others have heard and believed the message about Jesus Christ the life, so that they now have something in common with their listeners! A common Father. And a common life in Christ the life.

Through the Holy Spirit’s work we have something in common with the apostles. We have faith in Christ. We are partnered up with the apostles and countless believers throughout the ages and today who continue to proclaim the good news about Christ.

There are plenty of people out there who don’t know about the life that Christ provides. You may know them pretty well. Maybe you live with such a person. Or next to one. Perhaps you work with one. Maybe you are a longtime friend of such a person. You may just be an acquaintance of one who needs the life Christ provides.

Have you proclaimed the truth to that person? If you haven’t or you have stopped trying, what’s keeping you from telling them about Jesus? Maybe you are thinking: “I don’t want to pressure them” or “I don’t know what to say” or “I don’t know how they are going to react to me” or “I don’t like to talk about religion with people.”

Wipe away the excuses with the realization that nothing could make you happier than to see that person in heaven with you one day. What could possibly make us happier than to have faith in Jesus Christ in common with that person?!

Jesus is the life. Let us continue to grasp on to that truth for our eternal welfare. Let’s remember that salvation is found in no one else except Jesus, who is the life, and that no one comes to the Father except through Jesus the life. Having this truth firmly in our minds will affect how we live and what we proclaim! Amen.

Jesus, Our Great High Priest - Pastor John Roekle

March 18, 2018 [Lent 5] Hebrews 5:7-9 J.D.Roekle

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9 and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.

Jesus, Our Great High Priest

Dear Friends in Christ,

When I traveled over to Israel and wanted to charge my cell phone, I needed to be prepared. I wasn’t able to simply plug my power charger cord into the outlet. That’s because the outlet I was plugging the power cord into is meant for a cord with circular posts on the ends, rather than the flat edge of a typical power cord here in the United States. So I needed to have along an adapter. I would plug my phone cord into the adapter and the adapter had the correct posts that I could plug into the outlet in Israel. If I didn’t have the adapter, I would have been carrying around a dead phone, since I wouldn’t have been able to charge it. The adapter was necessary for my phone to receive the necessary charge from the outlet.

An adapter is also necessary in your life. How is it that you and I can be connected to God? We have something by nature that is not at all compatible with God: sin. We’re all infected with it. We are born with it. On our own, we cannot plug into a relationship with God. We need an adapter of sorts. That adapter is Jesus. The office, which Jesus holds that explains Jesus connecting us to God, is his office of High Priest. Jesus is our great High Priest. The thing that makes Jesus our High Priest so great is his perfect obedience. He did everything that was asked of him in order to connect us with God.

The problem of our broken relationship with God has been around since the first sin in the Garden of Eden. In order to show the children of Israel their need for someone to connect them to God, the Lord established the Old Testament office of High Priest. This office was quite an exclusive club.

While there were many priests, there was only one High Priest at any given time. The High Priest was appointed by God himself with Aaron being the first one chosen. Aaron’s line would provide the High Priest through the centuries.

Because the High Priest was one of a kind, the Lord commanded the very cloths he would wear when he was doing his appointed work around the tabernacle or later the temple. While there were quite a number of garments, he was to wear, today we will simply focus on a few items that shows what his role was all about.

He wore two onyx stones on his shoulders. On them were engraved the names of the 12 tribes of Israel. In wearing these, he was showing that he represented the people before the Lord. He was also to wear a breastplate on which were 12 gemstones. On each gemstone was the name of one of the tribes of Israel. Carrying them near his heart, he was reminded of the great responsibility he had on behalf of the people. On his head, he wore a gold plate with the words inscribed on it: “Holy to the Lord.” This was worn on his head to show that he was the one appointed to do the sacrifices of atonement on behalf of the sinful people.

Now each of these articles, and all the other ones we didn’t discuss, were to be worn by the High Priest as they entered the Holy Place and Most Holy Place. If they would enter there without any of these articles properly worn, Moses says that they would “incur guilt and die.” (Exodus 28:43) They were to carefully do as God had instructed.

Jesus as our High Priest was much greater. While he didn’t wear the garb of the Old Testament High Priests, he was perfectly clothed in perfection. He did everything that God sent him to do. And what a difficult task this was. A task beyond our understanding really.

As our High Priest, he was to reconnect us to God, by being perfectly obedient in everything, including taking the very weight of our every sin on his shoulders. You and I can hardly begin to appreciate what Jesus went through.

The writer to the Hebrews says: During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.”

It was a regular practice of Jesus to pray. To pray both for himself and for the people he came to save: you and me. But the words here are clearly indicating a certain time in Jesus’ life when his earthly work was coming to a culmination. When you look at these words carefully, they describe Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane after he celebrated the Lord’s Supper, and just before he was arrested on Maundy Thursday. The prayers described here are more intense than we had seen Jesus give previously.

There’s good reason for that. “During the days of Jesus’ life of earth” literally mean “In the days of his flesh.” That captures much better what was going on here. Remember, that while Jesus was fully God, he was also fully man. Fully human. As Jesus reached the Garden of Gethsemane, the full realization of what was about to take place hit him. Remember Jesus’ prayer: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”

Now some might say that once Jesus fully realized what he was about to endure, he was changing his mind; that he was trying to get out of it. But the Hebrew writer makes it clear that this wasn’t the case. God heard his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane “because of his reverent submission.” Jesus was all along submissive to the Father’s will. He was going to do whatever was necessary to complete God’s perfect plan.

What this was on Jesus’ part was a reaction of his human nature. Think of the things Jesus would endure through his suffering and death, and even the suffering of hell. Who wouldn’t be taken aback at that! God heard his cry and answered him. He answered him not by taking the cup away from him, but by strengthening him for the task at hand. In fact, the Gospel of Luke tells us that God sent an angel to Jesus to strengthen him.

This truth about Jesus should draw you even closer to him. After all, he took on flesh. He knows what it is to be human. And while he never experienced sin, he experienced all the horrible results of sin. In other words, he knows what you’re going through. Whatever it is! You may feel alone. You may be afraid. You may not know how to face the day. Jesus knows. With every ounce of his being, Jesus understands. He’s been there too. Take comfort, then, in all that he has done for you. Take comfort in everything that he says to you.

After all, what Jesus experienced and accomplished is for your eternal welfare. “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9 and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”

The phrase “once made perfect” might strike you. It is not to be understood in the sense that Jesus was not perfect and so had to become perfect. Jesus was already perfect. The idea here is actually in terms of coming to the completion of a goal.

In being perfectly obedient, Jesus completed his goal. Just as God commanded, Jesus lived the life we couldn’t. He suffered an innocent death on the cross, and then rose victoriously.

In this way, Jesus is our great High Priest. Our perfect High Priest. In being fully obedient, he completed his goal of winning eternal salvation for us. And so, he is the source, the only source in fact, of our salvation. He alone saves!

And now it is up to us to obey God. And what does he tell us to do? Believe! Believe in his one and only Son, Jesus Christ. To believe that he has done everything necessary to save us. Just so we’re clear: God gives you faith through the Gospel in his Word. Through his Gospel in Baptism. He even strengthens that faith through his Gospel in Holy Communion. But you are the one who believes. God doesn’t believe for you. So believe what God tells you through the Hebrew writer today: Jesus our great High Priest is someone you can relate to since he took on human flesh to experience everything you and I do. And Jesus our great High Priest is someone you can believe in because he became obedient to God in everything, even death on a cross in order to save us. Amen.